91 Chapter Ninety - Life Goes On
Life goes on.
They'd face their loved ones dying and rising again as ravenous undead as well as finding that many of the survivors were no longer just ordinary men and women. They'd lost their homes more than once, but were still blessed enough to find a place to once more put down roots. They'd made new friends, new family, brought together by the strings of fate and had to watch as one of their own walked away without looking back. Yet life carried on.
The sheep roamed around looking for fresh and tender grass to graze on, the rooster resumed his early morning salutations towards the sun and the hens still laid eggs. The plants in the fields, greenhouse and sunrooms continued to absorb the sunlight and demand their roots be refreshed with water now and then and in return, their blossoms bloomed and their fruits swelled in size waiting for the opportune moment to ripen.
The main house still had twenty occupants, twenty one if Asian the dog was included, while the second property currently had three. The soldiers, Luke, Theo and Zak remained after the last confrontation between the two bases, still aware that they had much to learn in order to advance their powers, like the youth dubbed landlord, Nathan.
He, himself, did not fully comprehend what Ren Zexian referred to when he claimed that he'd risen in cultivation to secondary level, just took the older man's word for it. However, he was quick to discover that his capacity for creating water had almost doubled from before and he was now able to sense the plant-life beyond the boundaries of his gardens without needing to move towards other areas. At this point, if he stood outside his cottage door, he could feel the mood of the ivies growing beside the wall's gates and the pretty, flowering beds of the just beyond the hedge boundary of his garden.
Ren Zexian appeared behind him, so Nathan retracted his mind from reaching out towards all of the plants and flowers about himself, feeling a little dizzy as he did. Ren Zexian gently stroked his temple with one hand, while grasping his (Nathan's) fingers with the other until the strangeness passed. Then they walked slowly to the main property for breakfast.
"A fair few zombies seem to be gathering at the Southern most wall," Dexter mentioned as he sipped the raspberry leaf tea, with an inward sigh. The beverage was refreshing, but he still missed drinking a good cup of coffee now and then. "But its not like anyone is guiding them; Eraj noticed other northward bound zombies just bypass us and continue on. They move a lot faster at night these days."
The whole limbering, sluggish zombie of yesterday were fewer in between. Now they walked or crawled at a speed the equivalent to a casual walk and only revealed a little stiffness in their joints. At least, that was the case until a short while after sunrise when many slowed to linger in the shade of nearby trees or of the wall itself. If this was just after the end, one might have blamed this upon the undead fearing the daylight. Now it seemed that the rays of the sun were the problem for the walls were always silent after the sun reached a certain point in the sky and until the sun descended somewhat in the west. This was only on a day like today, however, when the sky was cloudless.
It was Tyler who'd pointed out these growing patterns, his analytical mind noticing these points during the few hours a week that he helped scout the walls. To ensure his ice shards would not melt before severing the brain stem of their targets, this was usually in the early morning at sunrise, but he also helped out on rainy days as his ability of water could protect him from the weather. Basically, he theorised, in layman's terms to ensure that most of his audience could understand, the zombies were trying not to get sunburnt! But even he had no answer for Dexter and Eraj's observation that a lot of the zombies seemed to be heading north.
Not all, mind you, there were still the odd attacks from varying animal types at the other walls, but for the humanoid ones, north seemed to be the destination of choice.
After a breakfast of bean and noodle soup, where everyone was lucky if they managed to scrap more than one noodle from their bowl, Ren Zexian kissed the back of Nathan's hand before heading to the wall. He and Chang Min were relied on greatly to clear of reduce excessive gatherings of zombies or to deal with the more ferocious animal types, but it was not as if others were not working hard. For example, Shaun used his metal abilities everyday to develop crossbows and bolts, spears and throwing knives. And when he wasn't doing that, he was forcing the metal blades of various kitchen equipment to spin rapidly. Lucy and Nathan especially enjoyed the strawberry milk he helped make.
So it was of no surprise (at least to the other ability users in the house) that Shaun swept swiftly through to secondary cultivation stage not long after Nathan.
Patrick felt a little off about it, as he was still firmly stuck in primary cultivation. Ren Zexian checked his pulse for him.
"There is nothing wrong with your pace," the Cultivator assured him. "There are no obstructions that have formed in your meridians either. You just require a little more time and patience."
He was not reconciled.
Patrick had a bit of a gamer's mentality when it came to raising his cultivation as if he could mentally picture an experience bar that he needed to fill before he could break through to secondary stage. Or rather, two experience bars, one for each root. He also imagined that Dexter and the others had the same.
This was all in his imagination, but he was not completely wrong in his views; for example, cultivation through meditation of a technique had more benefits that simply constant use of ability, but it wasn't that practicing those abilities had no benefit at all. He saw it that if he used his abilities, the relative experience bar filled up a tiny bit, while if he meditated, both filled up a lot more. This very simple view did not take into account many other factors, such as sudden rare moments of enlightenment that have been known to have allowed Cultivators sudden breakthroughs or life and death battles which have also caused sudden boosts to overall cultivation.
But following his beliefs, while he reluctantly accepted that it was possible for Shaun to breakthrough as he had a lone root so his later start in cultivation didn't prevent him from overtaking himself in this regard, Nathan with his two* roots and late start should not. He would have been even more distressed had he learned that Nathan actually had three roots.
At first, he decided to practice using his abilities more as Ren Zexian prevented him from meditating during certain times so he had no opportunities to increase cultivation that way. However, his body root was currently passive, it only activated when his body was attempting to protect itself and so he had no way of pushing this ability in his quest to breakthrough. He felt that only by battling zombies he might actually have a chance to improve, just that his fighting skills sucked so he was always kept in the rear lines of battle to use his gravity powers from a distance.
So he could only suffer a bit longer in frustration and try to remain patient as a Ren Zexian had originally suggested.
And then that commanding officer returned to their gate, but this time, it was with his usual squad members, including two ability users. One had some control over fire, but he could not create it himself and the other was able to make trees grow rapidly from seeds, but they would lose their vitality after a short time and crumble. This pair had already received some basic instruction from Chang Min which had improved their abilities already, but wished to learn more; the fire user wanted to be able to create fire and the Wood ability user wanted more control and for the trees not to die.
The commanding officer had 'smuggled' them here using the excuse of a mission. "My 'superiors' seem to think they still need more proof that your teachings here work," he was clearly scornful when he said this. While the council bickered, the enemy was getting stronger. Just because the majority of walking corpses seemed to be bypassing the base heading north these days, didn't mean they weren't still a threat. Plus there were still zombified beasts to deal with. Complacency meant death. Wasting precious time picking holes in an offered solution because it's not scientific, but without any better solution could also end up leading to death. The officer was not a selfless man, he wasn't gonna hang around endlessly until a zombie that he couldn't deal with came and killed him, but he wouldn't abandoned his duties, so he could only make his chances of survival and that of his subordinates better.
Ren Zexian had no opinion about teaching the two newcomers and noticed the interest in the eyes of these men and women, believing he may have more students in the future. "Since you're leaving these two here," Dexter clarified out loud, "will your squad's lives be compromised in anyway."
"We're not going on some overly dangerous mission," the officer mentioned. Or at least on a scale of one to ten, it could be considered about a five. They were heading to one of the two major roads in this region to scavenge through abandoned vehicles. Not that they were predicting much, just ensuring no stone was unturned. The base was more comfortable with more supplies, so even the fuel in the tanks of those cars was wanted. Plus cars were metal and the demand for such had recently increased. There was also the chance to check out any fields on the routes, see if any had reseeded crops missed from last autumn; after all a missed potato could sprout and become a new viable food source. "Of course, two less people is going to make some difference, but we'll live."
"Would you accept outside assistance?" Cole asked. Their people seldom left the base, especially after a couple of less than fruitful excursions making them question if it was worth the effort. Cole's heart was also within these tall, thick walls, but his mental state was suffering for the same reason. No matter how hard he convinced himself that the haven was not a prison, the walls were for their protection, not incarceration, he could not escape the feeling of being closed in. He needed to go out for a bit.
His eyes glanced guiltily towards Chang Min, who was simply smiling, happy his apprentice wished to gain more experience. The commanding officer looked a little taken aback, but on hearing that Cole had powers over the earth, he did not refuse. Seeing this, Patrick also excitedly volunteered to go with them.